By Cheechiay Jablasone, Journalist & Political Commentator (Email: [email protected])
So, the “honorable” Acarous Gray of Montserrado County (CDC) seeks to impeach Justice Kabineh Ja’neh from the Supreme Court of Liberia? A colleague of mine wrote in a Facebook comment recently that he felt there are several laws broken or provisions the constitution violated that many in government need to be impeached right now. I have no way of disputing what this colleague wrote but have no means of confirming that, too, as there was no way to authenticate his claims as he stated nothing to refer to.
What I can relate to as a fact is there are serious integrity issues with many public officials and I strongly feel those officials should not be occupying their current posts. Some of these actions were ongoing long before the current government came to power. Interestingly, I don’t think the integrity issue is unique to one branch of government but he who seeks equity, the law says, must do so with clean hands. Therefore, I find Gray’s petition to sign up lawmakers to impeach Ja’neh as ludicrous!
Here’s why. From all indications Rep. Gray is seeking Ja’neh’s removal from the Bench owing to his part in the rebel group Liberia United for Reconstruction and Democracy (LURD). Gray finds Ja’neh, who has been nominated to the Supreme Court since 2011 and confirmed with no objection from the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), until 2018, as unfit for the job. For the record, Ja’neh was only in LURD as member of the political wing and had absolutely no part in the military command structure, as far as executing the war was concerned. If LURD committed any crime, it is not fair to blame the political wing but the commanders in the field who commanded the forces. I may be wrong by that but that will only be fair if we hold people responsible for what they do and not for what people they associated with have done.
Mr. Gray’s petition cannot hold water for a mere fact that Ja’neh was not an arm-bearing commander at the front lines of the LURD forces and shouting orders to soldiers to commit crimes. He should not be held for the actions of other people only because they belong to the same organization. If we go by Gray’s professed logic here, we may be casting a wider net and bringing far more people into charge for actions not of their own. Don’t get me wrong. Mine is not that those who commit crimes should not bear responsibilities. It’s simply let’s hold those who are responsible for directly commanding the forces that committed these crimes, those who had the power and control to stop the mayhem but either looked the other way or colluded, those people should face justice.
By Gray’s petition, we will need to also impeach Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, wife of Charles Taylor, a monster whose crimes knew no bounds. This man commanded and controlled a force that killed, raped, maimed, pillaged, and ripped off our country for almost 14 years. Half that time, this woman was his wife. We can safely say she aided and abetted crimes against humanity. What moral grounds does Rep Gray thinks she stands to hold the second highest office of the land? If we agree that Mr. Taylor and Mrs. Taylor are two different individuals and played different roles in the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and that she’s innocent of the crimes her husband perpetrated, why are we trying to hold people in political wings of military movement responsible for actions of their military wing?
Mrs. Taylor is now second in Gray’s party and he’s silent on that. This is a serious integrity issue. Does Gray really repudiate former warlords being in positions of trust? Or at least those who were part and parcel of the war and war crimes in this country should not be in positions of trust? Alright, I know Mr Gray cannot challenge the sitting of Rep George Borley of the Liberia Peace Council (LPC) as Representative of Grand Gedeh County since he’s elected by his people or, Senator Prince Y. Johnson of Nimba County. But what about NPFL Gen. Charles Bright, pseudo Prime Minister of Liberia appointed by President George Weah to superintendent the government? Where is the righteous-seeking Representative objection to this?
I believe everyone who’s committed crimes against humanity must answer to their actions, whether in Liberia or any country in the civilized world. However, I have no conscience to equally indict those who waged just wars to remove from power tyrants and dictators who kill and maim their own people. In the cause of executing such just wars if there are miscreants who would rather choose to be lords unto themselves and wreak mayhem, those people should face the full force of the law without staining the reputation of honorable men and women who sought to restore sanity in society through a necessary armed struggle. It should not constitute a crime to stage a war against a rogue regime.
Howbeit, such institutions as the Supreme Court and the legislature should and must have men and women of integrity. I doubt challenging a dictator even to the extent of initiating an armed struggle undermines the integrity with those who lead the struggle and make good those who sit in silence and do nothing or those in collusion with the dictatorial regimes. Where would Liberia be today had the likes of Ja’neh failed to stand up to the monstrous Taylor? I think standing up to the mayhem Taylor was wreaking on the country was the most patriotic, honorable thing any one Liberian could have done, whether through political activism or armed struggle. All it required was rights should be respected and where the groups failed, members who abused basic rights and committed crimes against humanity should be penalized without a dent to the character of the rest.
However, if we must speak to integrity issues in this government then we must call Rep Gray to book for his level of dishonesty and robbery carried out for years on the people of Liberia. Mr Gray represents a constituency that is less than a mile from the Capitol Building;however, he receives tens of gallons of gasoline to drive to work monthly. On the average, the representative will need just a few gallons to report to work and back. It’s a crime to take from government more than what you need. What if a teacher took a box of copied papers per period to run a test for his class instead of a ream, what would we call him? That’s theft, isn’t it? So why is Rep Gray collecting tens of gallons of gasoline when he needs far less than what he collects? Besides, this man and nearly all his colleagues on Capitol Hill have no farms but take annual agricultural break. Many of them use that time to travel for vacation out of the country but they still get paid. This is a serious integrity issue; collecting salaries for work you’re not doing.
Gray needs to understand that tampering with the Supreme Court can have serious repercussions. It leaves the state to crumble and chaos to rise. The Supreme Court is final arbiter of Justice and those on the Bench should not be selected to serve special interests. Justices should interpret the law as written. For the most part, Justice Ja’neh and the rest of the current Supreme Court Bench have tried to do that. They’ve tried to follow tradition, history and precedent. Their opinions may not be pleasing to all of us but to attempt to bully the justices of the high court is far too disingenuous. Everyone knows that Gray and party are going after Ja’neh not for his actions in LURD but his opinion on the Bench. They’re trying to teach the rest a lesson: do it the CDC way or you will have no other way.
Such actions now being toyed with by the ruling party undermines the independence of not just the high court but the entire judiciary. Now justices and judges are aware they don’t have a guaranteed jobs if their judgements and opinions don’t favor the ruling party. Implicitly, these people who should hold their jobs based on public trust and confidence, will have those jobs at the will of the ruling party. In 12 months, we are about to wrecked our democracy. Distrust about the courts system is about to heighten. That will happen when the CDC gets its will and remove from the Bench a Justice it finds not supportive of the party.
In a country where people have no trust in the courts system they normally resort to taking the law into their own hands. We can’t afford our society slumping that low again. We’ve been down that road many times and the likes of Gray and the CDC will not be allowed to lead us ever down the same dark allay. Justice Ja’neh has broken no law. He’s done the honorable thing by standing up to a tyrant and killer in Charles Taylor. What more could he have done to deserve the respect of rational people?
It’s a bad omen for our democracy for the rulers to keep intimidating either institutions or those who man the institutions that guaranteed freedoms. I’ve sensed the strategy here is to narrow, if not remove the widened democratic space Liberians have gotten used to in the last 12 years. Today, the list of the enemies of the state will include student leaders and youth activists like Martin Kollie, journalists like Jonathan Paye-Layleh and Justice Kabineh Ja’neh. Are we observing the trend? It’s a bad omen for our democracy!
Democratic activists and rights advocates, all who believe in freedoms being unhindered, must stand up to this challenge now or we may be decimated and weakened to stand up later. Silent is not a virtue, we should not listen to Finance and Development Planning Minster, Samuel Tweah and Information Minister, Lenn Eugene Nagbe and accept to shut up. Silence can be very expensive and expansive. It hits at the very core of democracies and destroys the foundation upon wish pluralism or popular governance can be built. It quickly erodes the institutions of state, the rule of law and the strength of the citizenry. It hands too much power to the governing elite and serves to breach the social contract between the governors and the governed. It’s a fertile ground for autocracy, tyranny and dictatorship.
There is a deafening silence right now around the Liberian political arena and voices of the traditional activists community; student groups, Press Union of Liberia, the Liberia Interfaith Council, civil society groups, Liberia Bar Association, Association of Liberians in the Americas, the Catholic Church and all other groups, need to be raised louder.